Watchdog urges ICE detail be removed from New Mexico facility because of staff shortage

The facility is supposed to have 245 full-time staff, but at the time of inspection, there were only 133 full-time employees, leading to staff working overtime and unsanitary conditions.

Updated: March 18, 2022 - 9:28pm

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The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General is advising that Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees be relocated from a New Mexico detention facility due to a staffing shortage and subsequent "unsanitary living conditions."

According to the report released Wednesday, the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, New Mexico, housed 176 male ICE detainees at the time of the OIG's inspection early last month. The facility is supposed to have 245 full-time staff, but at the time of inspection, there were only 133 full-time employees. Most of the staffing vacancies – 94 out of 112 – are security positions.

The report also concluded the staffing shortage and other related issues "seriously impact" the federal government's  ability to support the southwest U.S. border security mission.

In December 2020, ICE issued a Contract Discrepancy Report related to medical-staffing shortages and other issues with filling vacancies. However, over a year later, current staff must work at least six overtime shifts per month to help bridge the gap caused by understaffing.

Despite CoreCivic, the private prison company that owns and operates Torrance County Detention Facility, offering hiring incentives such as subsidized housing for staff, the facility is still unable to hire enough employees.

One staff member noted that the remote location of the facility, which is about an hour drive from Albuquerque, may be a reason, according to the report.

The result of the understaffing is unsanitary conditions, such as 83 of the 157 cells holding detainees having "plumbing issues, including toilets and sinks that were inoperable, clogged, or continuously cycling water."

The inspection also found "mold and water leaks throughout the facility."

"We recommend that the acting Director of ICE immediately relocate all detainees from Torrance County Detention Facility and place no detainees there unless and until the facility ensures adequate staffing and appropriate living conditions," the report reads.

ICE disagreed with the report's conclusion, telling the OIG that it "ignored facts presented to it in order to achieve preconceived conclusions."

According to a March 1, 2022, contract discrepancy report that ICE issued the facility: "The critically short staffing plans are directly responsible for the breakdown in the overall operational capabilities of the [facility.] CoreCivic has not been able to demonstrate the ability to provide a safe environment for staff and non-citizens, provide the necessary security for proper facility security and control measures, and care necessary to ensure proper facility maintenance, overall cleanliness, and personal hygiene needs ... 

"The Performance Requirements Summary areas of work-force integrity, safety, security and care are all at risk, have been on-going violations, and do not meet contractual requirements. These continued violations seriously impact the El Paso Field Office's ability to support the southwest border security mission."

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